The Laugher

Junko Tabei was the first woman to climb Mount Everest, and the first woman to climb the tallest mountain on each continent.

 

Her obituary in the Christian Science Monitor observes:

The early climbing achievements of Tabei, a married mother of two, were especially noteworthy at a time when most women were expected to stay home and perform domestic duties.

They are all the more noteworthy considering she was once labeled a “weak child.”

She had the last laugh, though: even after a cancer diagnosis in her seventies, she continued to climb, working toward her goal of scaling the highest peak in every country in the world.

 

“Mount Fuji & Sakura,” Hideo

 

There is a poetic device in Japanese haiku poetry called a kigo, a word or phrase associated with a season. Fittingly,  Tabei’s favorite, expressing spring, was “the mountain laughs.”

 

 

Bob Kalsu

 

 

In 1968, Bob Kalsu was the Buffalo Bills’ rookie of the year. The next year he was an artillery officer in Vietnam. As this Sports Illustrated profile recounts:

Word had gotten around the firebase that he had played for the Bills, but he would shrug off any mention of it. “Yeah, I play football,” he would say. What he talked about – incessantly – was his young family back home.

Grantland‘s “The Death of Bob Kalsu” describes the toll of his loss on that family:

For almost 30 years, Bob Jr. felt partially responsible for his father’s death. As the story went, Bob Kalsu was killed while running out to meet a helicopter that might be bringing the news of his son’s impending birth.

It took this NFL documentary to relieve Kalsu’s son of that burden.

 

The Lover

 

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Mr. Barnes was known for his trademark “I love you” greetings which he bestowed on hundreds of commuters every morning from about 5am until 10am at the Crow Lane Roundabout.

 

There are a lot of rotaries in and around Boston. I drive through three each commute. Of the many interpersonal exchanges I’ve witnessed, the predominating theme is not love.

Johnny Barnes’s obituary in Bermuda’s Royal Gazette is a reminder that the unpleasantness we accept as normal could be otherwise.

The Economist eulogized Mr. Barnes with a parable, “Clothed with Happiness.”

This short film shows Mr. Barnes in action:

 

 

PS Boston drivers: note how Mr. Barnes extended all digits when he waved.

 

The Inventor

 

Who’s the most brilliant scientist to have immigrated to America?

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Is that your final answer?

Did you consider the inventor of washable crayons?

Colin Snedeker came to the United States as a youth. After inventing a non-staining shoe polish, he went to work for the maker of Crayola Crayons. As his obituary in the Wichita Eagle tells it:

[H]e had run out of ideas as to what to make next… He went into the company’s complaint department, where they had all kinds of mail from people complaining about what was wrong.

Thus inspiration struck.

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“He had that kind of mind that could just figure things out,” his sister said. Snedeker is just one of the brilliant minds America has been blessed with from abroad: since 2000, 40% of Americans who won Nobel Prizes in chemistry, medicine, and physics have been immigrants.

Mr. Snedeker may not have been a Nobel Prize winner. He is, however, (yet) another immigrant who has improved our lives.

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The Librarian

 

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“Books transmit values. They explore our common humanity. What is the message when some children are not represented in these books?” – Walter Dean Myers

 

Pura Belpré was the first Puerto Rican public librarian in New York City.

As this NPR tribute recounts, “Belpré could not find any books in Spanish – so she wrote them herself.”

Moreover:

Belpré travelled all over the city, from the Bronx to the Lower East Side, telling stories with puppets in Spanish and English. Nobody was doing that back then.

Today there is an award in her name, given each year by the American Library Association, to honor a Latino author.

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The chances of winning this prize are, alas, not as slim as they should be: “the proportion of books for kids by Latino authors is so “shockingly low” that “it’s insane,” says the award official.

The problem is even larger. “Children’s and young adult literature… represent a stubbornly white world even as U.S. children are increasingly people of color,” Amy Rothchild concludes in FiveThirtyEight.

Ms. Belpré needs our help.

 

Roald Dahl

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“For many children Roald Dahl is synonymous with reading.”

 

Fighter ace, surgical device inventor, and FDR’s drinking buddy. And then there’s his services to literature, and literacy.

For Roald Dahl’s 100th birthday, the Oxford English Dictionary added several of his words – that’s how we’ve come to think of them – to their volumes.

He is rightfully known for his inventiveness with English. But as the Independent noted in Dahl’s obituary a quarter-century ago, “The quality of his writing is easily discernible by the fluency with which it can be read aloud.”

 

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See for yourself by reading the passage below out loud. A lesser writer would have crammed it with detail or been oblivious to its rhythm:

Continue reading “Roald Dahl”